“Carol” is not an agenda film. Set in 1952, it is the story of a department store clerk (Rooney Mara) who falls for a suburban upper-middle class housewife (Cate Blanchett), and is in many ways a classic love story.
Director Todd Haynes and producer Christine Vachon tell Variety‘s “PopPolitics” that aspects of the story, like the custody battle between Carol Aird and her estranged husband, still hold relevance even though it was set more than 60 years ago.
Vachon recently appeared at a Human Rights Campaign screening of the movie in Washington, D.C.
“I think we are still very much dealing with this issue,” Vachon says. “Around that time [of the screening] there was that couple in Utah. A local judge had taken away their adopted child because he said that the child would be better off not with a same-sex couple. That decision was reversed a couple days later, but it is stunning to think that could happen.”
Haynes says, “The general progress that we see for gays and lesbians and marriage rights and custody rights extended to those groups is so phenomenal and has happened at such a relatively fast speed over ten or 15 years that I have less concern about where we stand in the West than in many countries, where not only are things really, really difficult, but often you see retreats, where they are going backwards in progress about gays and lesbians and women’s rights in general.”
The movie is based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel “The Price of Salt,” which was published under an alias in 1952. Even though it was based on some of Highsmith’s own experiences, the author didn’t see herself as a LGBT activist of any sort, but the novel sold more than one million copies.
“The thing that made it such a novelty is that it didn’t end badly,” Vachon says. “There’s a real tradition, especially in the early 1950s, of lesbian pulp fiction that always ended with women being punished in some way, shape or form of the crime of being gay. The fact that ‘Carol’ ends with the idea that maybe they have got a shot, who knows? That is really amazing.”
In contrast to “Far From Heaven,” his homage to director Douglas Sirk that was set in the late 1950s, “Carol” intrigued Haynes because it was set in “the other end of the decade, and it revealed perhaps more about what the end of the 1940s felt like. It is really about that unsettled time, before Eisenhower had taken office and the road project had taken hold and all the changes he imposed on the United States. That sense of security that people were looking for had not been experienced yet.”
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“PopPolitics,” hosted by Ted Johnson, airs Thursdays at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS. It also is available on demand.